Birtenshaw was established in 1956 by a group of parents as a special school for young children with cerebral palsy. Today our firm provides a wide range of services for children and young adults, with severe learning disability, including Autism Spectrum Conditions and/or significant physical disability, including complex health needs.
The firm runs also a range of therapeutic health and wellbeing services.
Although Birtenshaw is positioned within the voluntary and community sector, or what many people refer to as the ‘not for profit’ sector, I take the view that we should operate as a ‘social enterprise’ on sound business principles with the aim of making a profit. However, in our case the profit is not for shareholders but ‘profit for purpose’ so that we can re-invest and continue to expand the range and diversity of our services.
We have been very successful at that over the last few years. Between 2012/2013 and 2015/2015 Birtenshaw’s turnover grew by over 326% whilst in 2014/2015 the bottom line improved by over 40% and in 2015/2016 by a further 126%.
This has enabled us to increase the number of children and young people supported by our services in that time by over 280%.
Birtenshaw’s vision is “brightening lives, building futures” for disabled young people, whether that be people who are physically disabled or learning disabled. Our vision is based on the philosophy of ‘ordinary life principles’. What this means is simply that young people with Special Education Needs and Disability are supported to take part in meaningful and enjoyable activities and have the same learning and social opportunities as other children.
My own career background is mostly in the public sector; having worked for three North West based Local Authorities. Overall I have almost 30 years’ experience working in social work/care.
From a young age I knew that I wanted to be a social worker and in particular to work with disabled children. Some of the younger members of my family are disabled and I saw the struggle they and their parents had to access quality services. I have always felt strongly that disabled young people should be able to access a range of quality services that helps to improve the quality of their life.
I joined Birtenshaw in 2006 after making the decision to move from the public sector to the so called ‘not for profit’ sector. At the time I noticed a growing trend for local authorities and councils to have their funding restricted, and I wanted to move into a sector where I could have more influence over the allocation of resources and funding.
Since my arrival at Birtenshaw I have worked tirelessly to grow the firm and expand our service offering so that we can meet the ever increasing needs and numbers of young people and children across the North West and beyond with special needs.
Recent developments include the opening of a state of the art special school in 2012 with the aim to provide quality education services which are cost effective and cater to children and young people at every level of the disability spectrum, although in particular those with the greatest need.
Birtenshaw School provides the ideal physical environment for the specialist learning needs of its pupils, with purpose built facilities. Consequently, the school is able to provide a spacious, calm and safe environment in which young people can thrive. Our facilities fully support the creative learning curriculum and “Total Communication” approach to this specialised area of education. Each of the classrooms is equipped with all of the state-of-the-art education technology such as touch screens and iPads which you would expect to find in any modern school.
In addition, the school has a range of specialist facilities which underpin its special education needs functions by working with sensory experiences (sight, sound, touch, smell and so on) to develop senses, co-ordination and communication for each pupil, promoting interaction, concentration, calmness and confidence. These facilities include a sensory integration room; a multisensory dark room; on-site hydrotherapy pool with multisensory sound and light system as well as a soft play area. The school’s multisensory input is supported by its fulltime occupational therapist who completes a detailed sensory profile for individual pupils, producing a ‘sensory diet’ for the school’s professionally trained staff to follow. Outside of the classroom, the school has also provided safe enclosed outdoor play spaces and a horticultural garden, and the school is currently developing a sensory garden, to allow pupils the chance to learn in their own way outside of the classroom.
I am delighted that the success of Birtenshaw School is recognised at national level as it has been nominated as a finalist for the second year in a row in the Times Education Supplement Awards (TESAwards). In addition, we have only just learned that the school has also been nominated for a national Diversity Award by a parent of one of the children.
In September 2014 we opened a new special education further education college. The intention was to provide the same quality of learning for students up to the age of 25 years old. The college has now achieved Independent Specialist status with the DfE and the Education Funding Agency and is already oversubscribed.
Birtenshaw School has been graded independently as an Outstanding School and we look forward to a formal Ofsted inspection in the near future.
In addition to our education services, we operate a number of care services for young adults and several children’s homes (which make up the majority of our service offering) have been rated by Ofsted inspectors as Outstanding.
Given the quality of our services it is no surprise that many Birtenshaw employees are nominated for national awards. In the last few months, a manager and a support worker form care services have got through to the national finals of the GB Care Awards, two other front line leaders are finalists in the National Learning Disability and Autism Awards and my deputy CEO is a finalist in the E3 Business Awards as an ‘Outstanding Woman in Business’. It is the quality of the people in my team that makes Birtenshaw such a success.
Although there is nothing unique in offering education or care services to disabled children and young adults, Birtenshaw is differentiated from its competitors because of the high quality of care, cost effective approach and versatile service offering.
Over recent years we have noticed that local councils and authorities are purchasing our services more often, because as I predicted efficiency targets are a prevailing trend in the Special Education Needs and Disability sector, and many public sector providers have seen their funding significantly reduced over the past few years and their capacity to provide services themselves has decreased accordingly, leading councils to outsource to firms such as ours.
Another key trend which is putting a strain on the public purse is the increased number of people living for longer with significant physical impairment and the increasing number of people being diagnosed with autistic spectrum conditions.
Advancement in medical services and knowledge has helped medical professionals to diagnose Autism more easily. Whilst I believe that medical advancement has a part to play in this, I also believe that there are other, as yet unproven, reasons for the significant increase in the number of people presenting on the autistic spectrum.
I have a number of growth strategies in place to assist Birtenshaw to continue our phenomenal growth to build on our current level of success and expand into new sectors, allowing us to help more people with Special Education Needs and Disability.
When we built the new school three years ago we drastically underestimated the demand for our services, although we have just received confirmation for the DfE to enable us to increase the number of registered placements at the school, we are also looking into a number of expansion plans, including redeveloping our previous site into new classrooms, and creating an early years’ service.
During the remainder of this calendar year we will be opening at least another four children’s homes, to compliment the recently opened children’s short break centre (formally called respite) which is designed to provide an enjoyable positive activity based experience for the child and a break for their parents/carers.
Although the new school and future new education services are exciting new ventures for Birtenshaw, approximately 60% of our business is care services and allied health support.
In the longer term we are keen to expand geographically. Our services are currently based exclusively in the Greater Manchester area, albeit with a national reach but we are planning to expand into Merseyside by 2017, with a view to eventually operating on a national basis
Ultimately we anticipate that the number, diversity and age range of the people we support will continue to grow over the coming years, and we are keen to ensure that we meet this need and can provide quality, cost effective education and care services to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable disabled young people in our society and ensure that they experience an improvement in the quality of their lives.
Address: Darwen Road, Bolton, BL7 9AB
Phone: 01204 304 230